Apple tapped Deirdre O’Brien to be its new retail boss today in light of the news that Angela Ahrendts plans to leave the company.
While O’Brien may not be a household name to most Apple fans, she’s been with the company for over three decades. From the days of Steve Jobs saving Apple from bankruptcy to watching Tim Cook leading the company to a first-ever $1 trillion valuation, O’Brien has seen huge changes during her tenure with the iPhone-maker. Now she’s set to be one of the most powerful people in Silicon Valley.
Here are six things you didn’t know about the new Apple retail boss:
She came from IBM
O’Brien started her career at IBM, the same place Tim Cook started. But she joined Apple before Cook.
“I was so blown away when I joined the company because you know when you first start working you have no idea of what corporations are like, and I loved that when I, a couple weeks into it I thought wow what I do makes a difference every day. Like I love this. This is fun. And I would say that has not changed. And I love that about Apple,” O’Brien told Cult of Mac founder Leander Kahney in an interview in 2018.
She ran Steve Jobs’ Mac factory of the future
O’Brien was hired by Apple back in 1998 – four years after the original Macintosh launched – to do production planning in the Fremont factory making the Macintosh SE. The highly-automated “factory of the future” closed after a few years because of chronically low sales volume of Macs that were too low to support it.
She’s tight with Tim Cook
When Cook joined Apple in 1998 as head of operations, she was one of the first members of his new team that overhauled Apple’s operations. O’Brien played a critical role in helping save the company from bankruptcy.
She’s an operations specialist
O’Brien soon became part of Cook’s core team in operations, running demand forecasting. She was joined by several IBM alums, including Jeff Williams, a former-IBMer who became Cook’s right-hand man and is now Apple’s COO; Bill Frederick, also from IBM and a logistics expert, who headed up customer support; and Sabih Khan, who ran notebook operations. Later on, Rita Lane, another IBM alum who used to work for Cook at Big Blue, was hired in 2007 to run desktop operations.
She’s seen a lot of change at Apple
Over her 30-year career, she rose through the ranks in operations working for Cook and then his successor as COO, Jeff Williams. In her time she worked under five different CEOs – John Sculley, Michael Schindler, Gil Amelio, Jobs and Cook. She is now Apple’s head of HR; the so-called “Veep of People” — a title she said was Cook’s idea.
She’s a diehard Apple lover
For the last few years, O’Brien has been heading up Cook’s initiatives to increase inclusion and diversity, with the biggest success in the stores, which hire considerably more women and minorities than Silicon Valley rivals (although in low-paying retail jobs, not cushy, high-paying positions at Apple HQ) Still they have made some progress.
“I have been an incredible believer that the special thing about Apple is its people. And for so many years I built my career here and I’ve watched so many other people build their careers here and I’ve seen people join the company from outside and seen people be successful and sometimes not successful,” O’Brien said in an interview with Cult of Mac. “And I’ve always loved the way Apple works. I’ve always been fascinated by it and I was lucky enough to because Apple runs like a small company. You get you kind of have a front row seat watching an incredibly successful company.”